The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) in the UK has joined an Australian trio of investors in raising concerns over mining group Rio Tinto’s testimony at the Australian Parliamentary hearings that took place last week regarding the destruction of Aboriginal caves at Juukan Gorge.
Testimony revealed that senior executives, including Jean-Sébastien Jacques, Rio Tinto’s chief executive officer, had not read a critical archaeological report about the site, raising significant questions about both the governance and human rights due diligence procedures implemented at the mining group, which have implications for the creation of investment value.
The LAPFF has supported the concerns raised by Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), AustralianSuper and Hesta regarding the apparent lack of senior level accountability for the destruction of the caves.
To date, the forum has written to Rio Tinto requesting a meeting on this issue, has held a seminar with Aboriginal community leaders who expressed their concerns, and has issued a press release in support of appropriate accountability measures, it said.
Doug McMurdo, LAPPF’s chair, said: “The Parliamentary Inquiry evidence further amplifies why LAPFF has increased its call for companies to engage meaningfully with affected communities. The fact that Rio Tinto’s senior management had not reviewed a critical report about the site itself calls into question the company’s governance and oversight processes.”
He added that if there had been an effective community engagement process in place, it would be hard to see “how this tragedy could have occurred.”
The forum represents some 81 British public sector pension funds totalling £300bn (€332bn) in assets, of which at least 42 LAPFF members hold around 2% of Rio Tinto shares.
Marcia Langton, of the University of Melbourne, said: “As an Aboriginal person, a native title practitioner and adviser, it is impossible to have confidence in Jacques’ statements about changing the company culture and respecting the Aboriginal traditional owners and their cultures.”
LAPFF said there will be a second inquiry into the incident and that a board level review of the incident is yet to be completed.
The forum will consider the resulting evidence as it continues to engage with the mining group and in determining vote recommendations at next year’s annual general meeting.